One of the highlights of my older brother’s daily commute to college was the clever, funny and quirky messaging posted on the signage of a particular restaurant along the Pacific Coast Highway. Never mind that he had gorgeous beaches, the ocean and all of the beautiful sights of Malibu to gaze at along the way. The one thing that commanded his attention every day on his journey was the wording displayed on the sign.
Sometimes it would be poignant or touching; other times humorous or nonsensical. Whichever, it was always memorable and intriguing. It also made us curious about the restaurant and its owners, and compelled us to eat there. Through a few letters on the sign, this business conveyed wit, intelligence and personality in spades. It was masterful, minimalist marketing.
This is the power of signage at its best. Your roadside signage is often the first thing tenants and prospective customers see when driving to or past your self-storage facility. What does it say about you and your business?
In his ISS Expo education session, “Self-Storage Maintenance and Curb Appeal: More Than Making It 'Pretty',” Bob Copper shares a few examples of self-storage signs that grab the attention of passersby, but not necessarily for the right reasons. There are more “elf Storage” signs illuminating the night sky than most of us would probably like to admit, and other bulb outages can create unintended words or phrases that may not shine the most favorable light on your business.
While these are problems easily taken care of or avoided by implementing a solid maintenance plan, the use of messaging space on your signage is usually another matter. Whether you’re affixing individual letters or making use of an electronic message center, the words and phrases you choose to communicate can create preconceived notions and perceptions about your business.
Baker’s Auto Body and Self-Storage in Palmer, Mass., created a stir a few years ago when it posted, “Muslims are destroying us from within,” on its signage after two Muslims were appointed to Homeland Security in 2009. More recently, the company posted a derogatory message toward women: “Life’s a bitch … don’t elect one.” You can see for yourself in the image below, which was submitted to us by a reader.
While the business owner has defended the practice of controversial messaging as an expression of free speech and claimed the company’s choice of wording has not impacted his business negatively, one has to wonder about the potential opportunity cost of losing prospects who are put off or insulted by the signage messaging.
There is truth in the old cliché that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. How an owner or manager presents a self-storage facility to the public is a lot like going in for a job interview. In many ways, you’re trying to be hired by prospective customers and retained by current tenants. The contrast between effective and negative messaging on a sign is akin to dressing to impress for an interview and acting respectfully vs. showing up in a torn T-shirt and shorts while berating the people you hope will hire you.
This isn’t to say you can’t be edgy or provocative, only to caution that there is sometimes a fine line between being cheeky and irreverent. The messaging you communicate to your customers should be considered carefully and strategically. You want to be memorable for the right reasons and top of mind when prospects eventually need self-storage. You’re trying to entice business, not repel it. Signage has been discussed at length on Self-Storage Talk including a couple of threads that specifically address signage messaging. There is plenty of practical advice and several terrifically amusing message suggestions. You can find those here and here.
Remember, too, that even a message on a sign is an extension of your branding. Customers will form snap perceptions and expectations about your business based on messaging and curb appeal. Business presentation and messaging also extend to your website, e-mail newsletter and social media interactions. While all of these customer touch points offer opportunities to put the personality of your business on display, the tone and messaging you use should be consistent across platforms and embrace sound reasoning and marketing principles.
If you’ve used a clever turn of phrase on your self-storage signage that has positively impacted your business, please share the wording or a picture in the comments section below.